The Do’s and Don’ts of Leaving a Church

Recently, Relevant Magazine published an article on their website about bad reasons to leave your church. After the article hit their website, response blogs popped up giving good reasons to leave  your church.

Reading these various articles caused me to start thinking about some of the do’s and don’ts of leaving a church. I’d love for some of my friends in ministry to share some of their do’s and don’t of leaving a church as well. We can learn from these experiences together.

There are times in which it becomes necessary to leave a church. Some do it with grace. Some, well, they don’t…

First and foremost, let me be upfront and say that often times the church gives people plenty of reason to leave. And, we don’t always do the best of following up with people before or after they leave. So, we definitely need to own up to our role. However, this blog is simply trying to provide some suggestions on things to do and to avoid when leaving a church.

Trust me, I get it! There have been times when people have made comments before, after, even during services that have made me want to walk out the door. And, I get paid to be there! There have been times when people have treated my family poorly and I’ve been ready to resign on the spot. There are days when leaving the church behind sounds like a great idea.

So, if you are going to church and you’re miserable, it’s probably time to move on. If you are going to church and you’re not making connections, it may be time to look around. If you are going to church and have been the victim of any type of abuse, run like hell.

However, we all know that there are good, bad, and ugly reasons to leave a church. And, there are good, bad, and ugly ways to leave a church.

If you are leaving your church, do:

1. Prayerfully consider your decision. Often times, we make decisions in a rash manner. Therefore, I suggest praying about the decision. This helps you avoid rushing into a decision and gives time to consider if you are jumping the gun, being petty or if it is the right decision.

2.  Talk to a pastor or ministry leader about your decision to leave, especially if you have not fully made up your mind. Honestly discuss your concerns/reasons for leaving. At some point, you really enjoyed this church. So, it is appropriate to share why you are leaving. It may be that your sharing could help the church improve in the areas of your concern. Also, in discussing your reasons for leaving, you might find the response of the pastor or ministry leader will confirm your reasons for leaving. Then,  you won’t have to later ask, “should I have left?” I’ve always appreciated folks calling, sending an email, or talking face-to-face to say, “Hey, we’re checking out some other churches and here are the reasons why.” I generally respond with, “Well, that stinks for us because you are awesome. But, I understand and I hope you find a place where you can connect and feel good about.”

3. Maintain healthy relationships with friends you made at the church. Just because you’ve left and are now attending a different church does not mean you need to get a new group of friends.

4. Keep a positive attitude. You never know when you might want to return. After checking out other churches, you may find that your old church wasn’t so bad. If you haven’t burned any bridges, it might make it easier to return.

5. Get connected to a new church and do your best to get plugged in. I know several folks who have left churches…sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for petty reasons. Either way, they never took the step to get plugged into a new church. Therefore, avoiding church became easier than finding a new community to engage with.

6. Understand that the church is made up of humans. Pastors are human. Church folks are human. We make mistakes. We drop the ball. We fail to get it right more than we actually get it right. Realize that we really are trying our best.

If you are leaving your church, don’t:

1. Trash the church publicly. Outside of cases of abuse, it’s best to take the high road. However, if abuse has happened, get on your soapbox until someone pays attention. While you may be upset with the church, there are many people who continue to love and be committed to the church. When you slander the church, no one wins. Making personal attacks about a pastor or ministry leader is tempting, but not helpful. Tossing the entire church and its ministries under the bus because of a theological difference or preference of worship style or missional focus is not helpful.

2. Actively recruit friends from your old church to attend your new church. It’s awesome that your new church is perfect. However, it’s unethical to try to lure folks away from one church to another.

3. Blame everyone else. Outside of cases of abuse, sometimes it’s just not a good fit. It’s not necessarily the fault of the pastor, the youth guy or the people. It’s okay to say, “well, it just isn’t for me.”

4. Mask the real reason for leaving a church behind something else. Be open and honest. If there is a theological difference, don’t tell people you left because you prefer contemporary worship. If there is an issue of abuse, don’t tell people it just wasn’t a good fit. I think you get the idea. Again, this will help the church address any issues, if necessary. Remember, sometimes it’s just not a good fit.

5. Focus so much on the negatives that you forget all of the positive things that you experienced at the church. At some point, you loved this church or you wouldn’t have decided to come. Hold onto the positive experiences and don’t let the negatives control you.

I’m sure I’ve missed some do’s and don’ts. Seriously, share some of your do’s and don’ts for leaving the church.


Interpretation: Pick & Choose

The United Methodist Church in Indiana is in the spotlight once again for issues revolving around homosexuality.

You might recall recent events that focused on an Indiana UMC congregation no longer partnering with the Boy Scouts due to their new position on homosexuality.

You also might recall another Indiana UMC congregation making the news due to not including Pride Lafayette in their community event.

Now, a congregation in Alexandria has become the focus of a news story surrounding the dismissal of a choir director.

Let me be very clear…there is always more to the story than what we read in the paper. The online commentary has been extremely critical of the UMC as a whole (some of it deserving, some of it not). The articles, blogs, and comments surrounding the events have been extremely critical of the pastor, District Superintendent, and Indiana UMC (some of it may be deserving, some of it not).

But, the bottom-line is that there is always more to the story. These stories sell papers. Let’s be honest, you know the Herald Bulletin website has seen a lot more traffic in the last 5 days than it probably has in the last 5 months! And, again, there is always more to the story.

While I have clergy status as a local pastor in the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church, I do not have all of the juicy details concerning this situation. All I know is that people on both sides of the issue have been hurt. In this particular situation, there is no obvious winner or loser. And, of course, there is more to the story.

Many of my regular readers understand that I am extremely liberal when it comes to social issues. I have been pretty straight-forward in saying that I disagree with the UMC’s current statement regarding human sexuality, marriage, and inclusion of LGBTQ clergy. I simply feel it stops short. However, while I may disagree, I still uphold the Discipline. I will continue to work within the system, honoring the system, while attempting to partner with others to usher in change.

My biggest issue with all of these situations is when the Discipline is brought into play. In each case, only a portion of the Discipline’s statement on human sexuality has been shared. When a more conservative decision is made in regards to matters of sexuality, a small portion of the Discipline is used to defend the decision. The portion often shared is this, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” Taken as a stand alone sentence, this sounds like a very strong statement that would fully support the actions in each circumstance.

With the issue in Alexandria, the portion of the Discipline used to justify dismissing the choir director applies to clergy (those appointed by the Cabinet) and not to lay employees. Therefore, it does not really support the decision made. Of course, there is more to the story. The article in the Herald Bulletin has so many holes in it…and is mostly presented from only one point of view.

However, this is an example of picking and choosing which parts of a statement will support our particular theological, political, or social stance on any given issue. We do it with Biblical interpretation all the time too…we pick and choose verses that will drive home the point we make, disregarding the story within it’s particular historical context. This practice is dangerous. It gives a false representation of the church. When we apply this type of pick and choose interpretation to the Bible, it can give a false representation of the holistic story of God.

The Discipline’s statement on human sexuality can be found here. Within it, you can find statements that seem extremely conservative. At the same time, one can find statements that seem extremely liberal. However, taken as a whole, it’s fairly moderate. Taken as a whole, we find a central theme…love for all.

For me, of course this is my own particular interpretation of the Discipline, the most powerful statement is this, “We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us.  We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”

Each of the recent “news stories” focusing on Indiana United Methodist Churches remind me of my call to do certain things…to love God, to love neighbor, to pray for/encourage/support my brothers and sisters in ministry, to be committed to be in ministry “for and with all persons”, to uphold the Discipline while boldly working to bring about change, and to remember that there is always more to the story.

Honest Confession

I believe in confession. I also believe in getting stories out before others can get them out for me. I like to take ownership of events on my own terms. So, today, I need to make an honest confession.

In the late 80’s, around the time Back to the Future was released, Michael J. Fox was sort of a hero of mine. I have an older sister who, on occasion would get an issue of Teen Beat magazine and Fox would often be featured (along with Kirk Cameron and Ralph Macchio). I thought Fox was cool.

michael j fox

I found myself desiring the jean jacket pictured above. If Michael J. Fox wore it, it had to be cool. Therefore, my parents did their best to deliver. We went to the Muncie Mall and found the jacket that most resembled the jacket Fox wore.

jean jacket

Yep, with this jacket, I would become “cool”.

Now, in the late 80’s, in order to take your jean jacket to the next level, one needed buttons/pins to accessorize the jacket. Most of the buttons would feature your favorite band or catchy phrases (like “gag me with a spoon”).

My jacket had 2 buttons. I thought they were awesome. This is the part where the honest confession comes in…The two buttons were…

tears for fearsTear for Fears

amy grantAmy Grant

Whew! I feel better getting that off my chest.

Now, don’t judge me. I’m sure you all made some questionable music choices “back in the day”. At that point in my life, I considered the Purple Rain soundtrack to be as edgy as my Quiet Riot tape.



My Church is Better than Your Church!


Church competition is alive and well, my friends!

We hear comments from our friends…We read statements on social media…We read blogs…Sometimes I get e-mails from a friend when he’s convinced his pastor is talking about my church (generally when he references “those other Christians” or “some churches around here”…and it’s to say that we don’t really believe the Bible because of our moderate to liberal position…that “some churches aren’t Bible-believing churches”…which, I’m not even sure what that means…what exactly is a “Bible-believing” church???)

Yes, my church is better than your church! Well, at least in my opinion.

Of course, you probably believe that your church is better than my church. Well, at least according to you.

Of course, one of us is wrong!

Then again, maybe we’re both wrong?

What makes your church better than my church? Theology? Worship style? Size of the congregation? Participation in missions? Number of small groups and Bible studies?

We compete in a number of ways. We pit Calvinism against Arminianism…Protestants versus Catholics…conservatives versus liberals…fundamentalists against everyone…contemporary versus traditional…low church versus high church…emerging church against everyone…and then there is Westboro Baptist.

I’m thrilled when I hear about people who are extremely passionate and excited about their local church.

However, I find myself growing tired of the attempts to “one-up” one another. Isn’t that what church wars are all about…me trying to prove to you that my church is superior to yours? Me trying to demonstrate that, while your efforts are nice, they aren’t even comparable to the amount of awesome that is my church?

Regardless of theology, size, etc…we really shouldn’t be in competition with one another. We might disagree on a number of issues. However, if we’re both trying to convey the love of Christ, shouldn’t we lay down the competition?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you love your church. I love my church too. I just don’t feel like we need to compete. I’m glad your church is doing whatever it’s doing…it doesn’t make your church any better and mine any worse. I’m glad my church is doing what it’s doing…it doesn’t make my church any better and yours any worse.

The reality is that we should be celebrating one another’s successes and supporting one another through failures. God uses big churches. God uses small churches. God uses conservative churches. God uses moderate churches. God uses liberal churches. At the same time, there are unhealthy big churches. There are unhealthy small churches. There are unhealthy conservative, moderate, and liberal churches.

We’re all hoping to connect people with Jesus as we love God and love one another, right? When we compete, we aren’t doing a very good job of loving one another.

The Struggle Between Good & Evil

On Sunday, January 5th, we started a new worship series called “The Line Between Good and Evil.” I had the opportunity to share the first message in the series, titled “The Struggle Between Good and Evil.” The series is inspired by Adam Hamilton and Church of the Resurrection. So, some of the material in the sermon is influenced, borrowed, and inspired by Hamilton. You can probably guess that Hamilton did not talk about “Sons of Anarchy” or chocolate covered cherries.

You can listen to the message by following this link…or you can read the manuscript below.

The Line Between Good & Evil: The Struggle Between Good & Evil
Sunday, January 5, 2014
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:6-7

This morning, we begin a five-week series dealing with “The Line Between Good & Evil”. The struggle between good and evil really is the defining story of the human condition. The struggle between good and evil is all around us.

We would like to think that we are more civilized, yet evil is a very apparent reality in our world today. Just watch the news, television programs, movies, read the Bible, or search within ourselves and it’s there…good versus evil. Every single day, we make choices between good and evil. We have all encountered evil…whether it’s in the small stuff we label as bad decisions or the obvious evil of abuse, addiction, crime, and violence.

Stories about the struggle between good and evil are abundant in film, television, and literature. So, I want you to share with your neighbor, what is your favorite story about good and evil?

Whether it’s on the news, in the movies, in our homes, schools, community, world, or inside of us, good and evil is all around us.

Currently, my favorite good versus evil story is “Sons of Anarchy. If you’ve not seen it, it’s the story of a rough and tough motorcycle gang. And, honestly, as one of your pastors, I probably shouldn’t be watching it.


Two of the main characters are Jax & Clay. Clay is the embodiment of evil – the man is pure evil. Any glimpse of good with clay is simply an attempt to deceive others and position himself to get his way. Jax, on the other hand, is a very intriguing character. Deep down, he wants good to triumph over evil. His character displays the struggle between good and evil. He wants the club to return to its roots and get out of the gun smuggling business. He desires to pursue the more honest business of drug smuggling and prostitution! Of course, he does a great deal of evil along the way. However, he feels it is all justified because it will bring about a greater good.

So, that’s my favorite story. What’s one thing that all of our favorite stories probably have in common? The hero. In most stories, good conquers evil. How many of you shared a favorite good versus evil story where evil won?

Let’s think about our story. In our story, as Christians, Jesus is the hero. He gave it all to conquer evil and calls us to spend our lives pushing back evil and darkness.

Now, we tend to use the word evil to describe degrees of badness. There is bad. And, then, there is evil. Evil is worse than bad.

There are various types of evil.
1. Doing wrong things in order to achieve self-gratification. It’s wrong, but it feels good, so I’ll do it.
2. Doing wrong things that will hurt others in order to achieve self-gratification. It’s wrong, it hurts others, but it feels good, so I’ll do it.
3. Intentionally hurting others in order to bring ourselves satisfaction. It feels good to hurt others. We get satisfaction in hurting others. We do what we know is wrong and simply don’t care what the consequences might be for others. We do it even though we know there will be painful consequences for others…and we get pleasure from this.

If we’re going to be honest with ourselves this morning, we would all be willing to admit that we struggle with the line between good and evil.

Think back to this morning’s Scripture.
– Adam and Eve struggled with the line between good and evil
– They are in the garden, living in the midst of perfection, walking in harmony with God
– They are given one rule
– They receive one offer from that sneaky snake that there might be an alternative to God’s story
– They make one decision that brought shame, guilt, embarrassment, and pain.

The point of the story in the garden is to see ourselves in the story.
– God has given us all this “good”
– God provides us with some parameters
– God gives us the freedom of choice
– And, we choose to operate within our outside God’s parameters.

How do you respond when someone tells you “no”? I can tell you how I respond…I want it more. I may not have even wanted whatever it is that bad, but once you said “no”; I’m all about it.

We’re not so different than Adam and Eve. We have everything. Yet we want the one thing we’re told we cannot have. So, we attempt to get as close to the line as we can. We can all hear that sneaky snake saying “Did God really mean that? Come on, just one bite. Just a little taste.”

So, like Paul in Romans 7, we struggle because what we want to do, we don’t do. But, the evil we want to avoid, well, that’s what we do.

Left un-checked, evil has the potential to devour us.

God provides these parameters…a path, if you will…
And sin is anything that causes us to stray from that path.
However, there is repentance.
And, when we repent, we return to the path.

This is our story- we’re on the path, we stray, we return, we stray, we return, etc.

There is a path – As Christians, Jesus is our path. Will we choose to follow?

The path we’re meant to follow is the path Jesus walked. To follow, to live as he lived. And, what does that path look like? Let us remember Micah 6:8, He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Remember what Jesus told us in Matthew 25 about the two greatest commandments? To love God and to love one another as we love ourselves. That’s the path…to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly, to love God and one another.

The truth is, we stray. But, there is always grace. So, we struggle…maybe not to the level of Jax and Clay, but we all struggle…even with small acts of evil…such as speaking poorly of others, gossiping, telling half-truths, being selfish, not fully disclosing the condition of items we’re selling, fudging numbers at work, being unfaithful in our thoughts and actions, being abusive in words and actions.

One of my battles with evil comes in the form of chocolate covered cherries. They are so good. If I open a box, there as good as gone. I simply can’t help myself. I know they are bad for me. I know they are on the list of things my doctor told me to avoid. And, yet, here I am with a box of chocolate covered cherries. Does anyone not struggle with this? Seriously, if you’re not tempted by chocolate covered cherries, raise your hand. I’ve got to get rid of these things and go the way of the carrot.

Of course, there is good news. The good news is this…no one is beyond redemption. We’ve all strayed from the pat, but there is always grace. There is always redemption. The Christian faith isn’t about guilt – our story is about grace. That’s the good news! No matter how far we stray, no matter how heinous the evil we may have done, we can always, always, always return. Because our God is a God of new beginnings…of 2nd, 3rd, 1 millionth chances.

Are there consequences? Absolutely. But there is also grace. Hear the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. If we humble ourselves, pray, seek God, and desire to change our evil ways, God will be faithful to forgive and bring about healing! No one is beyond redemption. Say that with me, “No one is beyond redemption.”

Now we are left with this question: How do we overcome this struggle? How do we overcome evil? I believe there are three key steps:

1. Come to Christ with a desire to become new people – make a decision to follow.
2. Engage in Christian community. Today, you all are awesome because you have perfect attendance. Make a commitment to be here – to worship, to study, to pray, to remember, to grow, to listen, to give, to serve, to encourage one another, to point each other towards good.
3. Read Romans 12:9-21. To do good. We are called to overcome evil with good.

How are we doing good? We knocked it out of the park through our seasons of giving campaign (College Care Packs, Dimes for Turkeys, Jubilee, Kids Against Hunger), we have ministries like Feed the People and Feed the Kids, through our Christmas Eve offering, we raised over $3,000 for missions, and all of our mission and outreach ministries are doing amazing things. Get on board. Pray for these efforts. Give of your time, talents, and treasures towards our missional efforts, find ways each day to overcome evil by doing good!

We will face the struggle between good and evil every single day…How will we choose to respond? Will we walk the path of Jesus or make our own? Will you love God, love one another, do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God?

May we go from this place bringing the light of Christ into the dark corners of our world, overcoming evil with good. Amen.